Document Saving Savvy

Written and published December 15, 1998

Last week, in my first column, I suggested the idea of creating a folder for each of your projects, using a temporary folder called “File These” as a temporary holding tank. About project folders, John A. wrote, “We retired people, for instance, don't have many ‘projects’ anymore, so perhaps adding terminology more fitting the home environment would communicate better.” I had chosen the word project as a generic term but perhaps should have also specifically said to create other folders by topic. For example: if collecting fonts you might use someday, create a folder called Fonts; if collecting icons, create one called Icons; if you write lots of letters to Jane, create a Jane's letters folder or make a folder called Misc. Letters. I hope this helps you in your organizational folder creation.

A few of you asked why I didn't talk about the Mac’s “Documents folder.” Now's the time for me to discuss that. Thanks to those of you who mentioned it for reminding me.

This week I continue with the master organization plan. Now that you presumably have all of your files in logical places, you'll want to keep your folders clean. This means noticing the folder to which you are saving your files.

Create a default Documents folder

The first thing to do is give yourself an organizational head start. Under the Apple menu go to Control Panels and select General Controls. The “Documents” area at the bottom right tells the Open/Save Dialog box which folder to automatically pop to. (If you don't have this option you're running a system that predates the feature.) Select "Documents folder" then close this Control Panel’s window. Your Mac will create a folder called Documents placing it either on your desktop or in the hard drive window. From now on, whenever you save a new document, by default you're Mac will attempt to save to this folder.

I don't recommend you save all of your files to this folder as it would become full and therefore disorganized. It would also create a potential backup problem if you backup to floppy disks. (I'll get to backup another time.) I am merely suggesting the Documents folder default so that if you forget to pay attention to where you're saving a file to, it'll land someplace safe and known. (Yes, the Mac has a terrific Find feature to help you find lost documents but the goal here is efficiency.) Once in a while open the Documents folder and move those files out of there and into appropriate topic folders.

Watch where you save

You may not have noticed, but each time you save a new document, you have full control over where your new file will land. To demonstrate this for yourself, launch SimpleText or any program. (If it's already running, create a new document.) Type anything, then select File->Save (or Command-S). At this point you may be in the habit of typing a name for your document, then clicking Save or pressing Return or Enter. Break this habit! You can type the name, but then stop to notice where your file is about to land. At the top of the Open/Save dialog box (toward the left) is a pop-up menu with a folder, hard drive, or disk name showing. This is the place your file will land when you click Save or press Return or Enter.

If you have selected the General Controls’ Documents folder option, you'll notice the pop-up menu shows an icon of an open folder beside the name Documents. This means the file will land in a folder called Documents. Otherwise, the pop-up may have any folder listed. If it lists the name of your hard drive your file will land directly in the hard drive window, without being in any folder.

If the file is about to land in the desired folder, you would go ahead and press Return or Enter or click Save to complete the Save. Otherwise, now is the time to tell the Mac where to save this file. You do so by clicking on the pop-up menu and using it to navigate to your preferred destination. Move your cursor down toward your hard drive or Desktop to move back toward a common location. In the box below the pop-up menu is a list of all the documents and folders that are filed within that folder/drive. Double-click on any folder in this list to move into that folder. Use the pop-up to move back out. Just move back and forth among your files until you get to the place you wish your file to reside.

Granted, this navigation stuff sounds confusing. It’s actually not. (It just sounds bad when written) You'll get the hang of it. However, if you're not comfortable with it, you can just let the files land in the Documents folder, then periodically move them to the correct project folders. Truth is, even the most seasoned Mac pros find Apple's file/folder navigation a bother. A utility called Action Files, found at is the time-saving, ease-making answer. I’m planning on telling you all about it in a few weeks. (But if enough of you want me to, I’ll talk about it next week, then continue with the rest of the hard drive clean up plan in two weeks time. Let me know what you prefer.)

Lastly, some other reader input

I'd mentioned that it's OK to move files out of the folder that contains their application because when you double-click on a document the Mac will know and launch the document's program. One reader informs us of an exception, which is due to Quark's non-Mac-like programming, not to where you file your documents. He wrote, “While 99.9% of documents will auto-launch the application they were created in, that demon-spawn... Quark XPress (4.04) is an exception to that rule.... 4.03 has that creator code problem, too. I thought the free 4.04 upgrade might have fixed it. Good thing I didn't hold my breath.... The document seems to be looking for THE ACTUAL COPY of Quark XPress that created it. Since my production users receive a lot of Quark documents that were created by outside service bureaus (and thusly someone else's COPY of Quark), they experience this a lot. So [if you share Quark documents you might have to launch Quark XPress, then open the file from within the app.”

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